Volunteer Dylan Jenkins conducts a Point in Time count survey for the Fresno Madera Continuum of Care with homeless Fresno native Barbara Anderson, in the Tower District, Feb. 25, 2022. Credit: John Walker / The Fresno Bee

What's at stake:

Homelessness increased by roughly 15.8% in the Fresno and Madera areas since January 2020, according to the 2022 Point In Time Count. The count is a snapshot of homelessness in the country and helps the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development determine where to allocate funds.

On the extremely cold night of Feb. 23, approximately 4,216 people were homeless, living in shelters and on the streets in Fresno and Madera counties, according to the 2022 Point In Time Count – a metric used for state funding and local resources. 

The survey, which had not been conducted for roughly two years because of COVID-19, revealed an increase overall in the number of people experiencing homelessness in the Fresno and Madera area. 

Data also shows a substantial rise in the number of people sheltered since the previous count which can be attributed to COVID-19 related funding for local shelters. 

“These numbers are people,” said Laura Moreno, the chair of the Fresno Madera Continuum of Care (FMCOC) at a Thursday news conference. “They’re families; they’re young people; they’re 20-year-olds who aren’t ready to be outside their home, but they are.” 

“So we have to continue moving forward,” she said. “We have to continue looking at how we assist people and how we prevent people from ever becoming homeless.”

The Point in Time Count (PIT) is a snapshot of the homeless population nation-wide on a night selected by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). 

In the course of that night, volunteers conduct a visual count of unsheltered people, and, in the days that follow, survey the unhoused community to collect demographic information. Volunteers are deployed to “hotspots” throughout the two counties; however, not all zip codes are surveyed acre by acre, and the FMCOC instead uses a formula to extrapolate data in areas of similar populations, according to the report. 

The number of those living in shelters is also added to the count. This year only people who currently work with the FMCOC were asked to be part of the count due to COVID-19 concerns. 

People were considered unsheltered if they lived in tents, encampments, on the street and in vehicles, according to a news release. 

“It is the one time a year where everyone, including people who don’t work in this industry, who don’t see homelessness on a daily basis, come together and go out and talk to people and see the conditions on the street and get a better understanding of what our homeless neighbors are dealing with out there,” said Jody Ketcheside, the vice-chair of FMCOC.

How many people are experiencing homelessness, according to the PIT

According to the 2022 report, approximately 4,216 people were experiencing homelessness in February. Approximately 2,338 people or 55% of those counted were unsheltered; 1,524 people or 36% were in “emergency shelters,” and another 336 people were in transitional housing. 

Of the 4,216 people experiencing homelessness, 80% resided in the city of Fresno — and less than 5% reported being from out of the area. Fresno Mayor Jerry Dyer referred to the issue as “homegrown homelessness.” 

Homeless people living in Fresno County outside of city limits made up 12% of the population, while those in the city of Madera accounted for about 5%. Roughly 1% of the unhoused population lived in rural Madera County. 

Here’s a quick breakdown of the demographics of the unsheltered population counted in the 2022 report: 

  • About 25% of the unsheltered population was considered chronically homeless, meaning they have experienced homelessness for 12 months in the past three years. 
  • Around 11% were children accompanied by an adult.
  • Around 79% of people were single adults. 
  • Around 5% were veterans.
  • About 15% were survivors of domestic violence. 
  • About 50% of those experiencing street homelessness were Hispanic. 
  • Roughly 60% of the unsheltered individuals who were counted were men; about 39% were women, and around 1% were transgender or gender nonconforming. 
  • Approximately 19% reported they have a serious mental illness. 

The 2022 report stated that the number of veterans, domestic violence survivors and people with mental illness was likely higher because some people may have not disclosed that information for privacy or safety concerns. 

How does homeless population compare to previous years? 

There was a roughly 15.8% increase in the total number of people counted in the 2020 point in time count, according to data from the Fresno Madera Continuum of Care. 

Between 2019 and 2020, homelessness had increased 45% in Fresno and Madera counties and local officials had said they expected another large jump in the number of people experiencing homelessness because of the pandemic. 

However, pandemic-related funds also allowed for additional resources to be added to the city, resulting in a 95.6% increase in the number of sheltered homeless individuals and a 12.8% decrease in the number of unsheltered people. The large improvement in shelter bed counts can be attributed to state funding that was used to convert motels into emergency low-barrier shelters. 

“We’re very, very proud to say that we’ve been able to step up in the city,” Dyer said. 

Prior to the pandemic, the Fresno and Madera areas had about 400 emergency shelter beds; now there are 1,795 emergency shelter beds due to funding from the CARES Act, Project Homekey and American Rescue Funds. 

Here’s a look at how many housing resources were operational Feb. 23, according to the Housing Inventory Count:

  • 1,795 units of emergency shelter were in use.
  • 358 units of transitional housing were operational.
  • 389 units of rapid-rehousing were operational.
  • 2,559 units of permanent supportive housing were in use.

The report added that while there were 389 rapid-rehousing that were being used during the count, there are a total of 644 rapid rehousing vouchers among the two counties. 

Still, more than half of individuals counted in the 2022 PIT Count were unsheltered. 

Advocates, service providers call out potential undercount

Ketcheside acknowledged that the PIT data is likely an undercount, a concern that had been mentioned in Thursday morning’s meeting from advocates and service providers. 

“We realize that if it’s super cold, someone might scrounge together the money to get a motel, but it’s supposed to be a snapshot of one night of people who don’t have the resources to get indoors,” Ketcheside said. “I think everybody knows it’s a little bit of an undercount, but we do as much as we can.”

Brandi Nuse Villegas, an advocate for the unhoused community, raised the same concern at a FMCOC meeting Thursday morning.  

Jason Green-Lowe, an independent technical assistance provider who presented the data at the Thursday morning meeting, said the Point in Time Count is only a snapshot of those experiencing homelessness, and by HUD’s definition those who are paying for their own stay, are technically not experiencing homelessness that night.

“You still have a need, but your needs are slightly different than someone who has been continuously homeless for the last six months or so,” Green-Lowe said, adding that the FMCOC must conduct the count on a winter night determined by HUD. 

“There’s no perfect time of the year to have this count,” Green-Lowe said. “The intuition that prompts us to have it in winter, is that it’s easier to find people when they’re in an emergency shelter than when they’re out in the wilderness. … So when it’s freezing cold outside, some people come and stay at emergency shelters, who would otherwise be outdoors.” 

According to the National Weather Service, the low temperatures on Feb. 23 was 37° in the Fresno area and 30° in the Madera area, with daytime highs of 53° and 54°, respectively.

“These numbers are people. … We have to continue looking at how we assist people and how we prevent people from ever becoming homeless.”

Laura Moreno, FMCOC Chair

However, the cold is not the only reason the count may not show the complete picture of homelessness. Gayle Holman with Community Medical Centers said during the Thursday morning meeting that the count does not include homeless people who are in the hospital. 

“I was looking at 2018-19 (data), and we have roughly, with our patient discharge numbers, we would have anywhere upwards of 300 to 400 people a day that are homeless somewhere within our facility,” Holman said, adding that it may be beneficial to include those numbers in future counts. 

The goal

Members of the FMCOC said while they have come far in providing resources, there is a long way to go. 

According to a two-year strategy, the FMCOC hopes to reduce family homelessness by 35% and single adult homelessness by 20% by December 2023. 

“Really what we need are not just those temporary beds, we need a strategy; we need somewhere for people to actually have permanent housing, much more low income housing, much more housing that is specific to the populations that we are encountering on the street,” Moreno said.

“Having more shelter beds is wonderful, but having permanent housing is really what we need,” she said.

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Cassandra is a housing and engagement reporter with Fresnoland.